PeerSync keeps data up-to-date
- By Earl Greer
- May 22, 2000
PeerSync software simultaneously solves two problems faced by agency information
technology departments: keeping data synchronized between mobile laptops
and office PCs, and keeping that data securely backed up.
Indeed, PeerSync from Peer Software Inc. works well over a local-area
network or a remote connection, although currently the software can't synchronize
data via an Internet connection, a slight strike against it.
When I installed PeerSync Pro II 5.0 on my Windows 98 PC, it created
two programs: PeerSync Profiler and PeerSync Wizard. PeerSync, which runs
on any Windows desktop or server system from Windows 95 up, itself became
permanently resident in memory, and a tray icon in my status bar served
to remind me it was always there.
After rebooting, however, I got a surprise. My faithful McAfee Software's
Guard Dog soon alerted me to a disturbing fact: Each time I booted up my
PC, the PeerSync software was apparently, and surreptitiously, sending a
message out over the Internet.
However, after talking with representatives at Peer Software, it turned
out that nothing so nasty was going on. Instead, PeerSync was simply sending
out an initialization string to the operating system. The code is in preparation
for an Internet FTP (file transfer protocol) synchronization feature that
is not yet available. Peer Software has already fixed the problem.
In setting up the program, I decided to forgo the automated installation
wizard and went straight to the Profiler to create a job, which is called
a "profile" in Peer Software's parlance.
I wanted to keep on a file server an exact copy of a folder on my PC's
hard drive. Even without reading the PeerSync's help guide, it was easy
to create exactly what I wanted. When I added, modified or deleted a file
on my local drive, the same file on the server's mirrored folder was synchronized
within seconds. Of course, if I were using a notebook computer and connected
to the server using a remote dial-up line, the response time might not be
as swift, depending on the speed of the connection.
Instead of setting up your own profiles, you can use one of the preset
ones provided by the PeerSync Wizard. You can also modify these canned synchronization
scenarios if necessary to fit your exact needs.
When it comes to backup, I've got two problems with traditional approaches — and PeerSync addresses both. First, my hard drives tend to outgrow the
capacity of my tapes or other backup media. Second, I need to back up my
data automatically the instant it is created, without waiting for a nightly
backup process. I was elated to discover that PeerSync gave me a way to
do instantaneous backups (unless I was working remotely, in which case I
would dial up the server and back up data on command).
Of course, you can also set up PeerSync profiles to do backups at preset
intervals, such as every five minutes or at the end of the day. I quickly
learned to be careful, though, with the automatic delete option, which is
extremely unforgiving. There are times, after all, when people need to be
saved from too-hasty housecleaning.
One good way to use PeerSync would be to keep a mirror of important
folders on a second, inexpensive hard drive, either attached to a server
or on the local PC. The second drive doesn't even have to be as big as the
first. PeerSync allows you to automatically Zip compress the files, and
makes it easy to use the compression program's password-protection feature.
I ran some tests to see how much PeerSync cost in system resources.
The program took about 1.6M of memory. When I copied large files into a
primary folder, the transfer to a mirrored folder took about another 3M.
For most PCs, this will be an acceptable overhead.
While the interface to the Profiler is simple and businesslike, it hides
a wealth of options. For quick jobs, you can use the handy wizard, but the
Profiler was so easy to use that I found myself going to it most of the
time. Whether your job is scheduled or real-time, whether you filter certain
files or use subfolders, expect to create your job in just a few minutes.
I liked PeerSync's automated reports, which let me keep track of everything
done during a synchronization session. And PeerSync also lets you password
protect access to the program.
The product, which is available by download from Peer Software's World
Wide Web site, would benefit from a manual. I recommend reading the frequently
asked questions section on the Web site, since it contains enough information
on actual use to serve in lieu of a get-started manual.
If you have a Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 server, consider purchasing
the PeerSync NT Server Utility. This product monitors folders on the server
and notifies PCs running PeerSync Pro II when files need to be updated on
Currently, there is no Internet component to PeerSync. If you need to
synchronize data from a Web server, consider a product such as Synchrologic's
There are a few other features I'd like to see, such as additional encryption
and automated installation of programs from a server to PCs. But overall,
I found PeerSync to be a useful and straightforward tool.
Greer is a senior network analyst at a large Texas state agency. He can
be reached at Earl.Greer@dhs.state.tx.us.